OMAHA, Neb. — America's borders are facing a difficult crisis. Immigrants are being detained, families are being separated. But it's not just at our nation's borders where this happens to migrant families, according to one local family, it's happening right here in Omaha.
A Honduran migrant family was detained in Omaha. A mother, father and their three young children - seven, eight and twelve years old all facing deportation. But according to a lawyer representing the family, the detainment process happened under inappropriate circumstances. The children were detained for days at a time.
"The situation is we don't have any kind of facilities in Nebraska or Iowa to hold children in ICE custody," attorney Lauren Schmoke said. "It is appalling to me that children would be held in a cell for prisoners, with no supervision, no one who's qualified to provide childcare."
The lawyers representing the family from Kasaby Schmoke Immigration Law say they've never seen anything like this.
"This was a new experience for us and very, very concerning. These children were held in the immigration building in a cell. The immigration building is not an appropriate place for somebody to be overnight so that is why they took them to the hotel, to keep them overnight," Schmoke said.
The father told 3 News Now that ICE agents knew the detention center wasn't able or equip to hold seven and eight year old children overnight. So the family was taken to a hotel in downtown Omaha, where they stayed overnight with armed guards inside the rooms and were taken back to the holding cell in the early hours of the morning.
"They really couldn't sleep because they were basically strangers in the room." "Armed strangers, the children were afraid, they couldn't sleep," the father said through a translator.
The family entered the United States in December of 2016. Last week, all within 36 hours, the entire family was detained and sent to Texas where the mother and twelve-year-old daughter were deported back to Honduras.
"Incredibly fast. The fastest I've ever seen anybody deported in all my years of practicing law. And the first time I've seen children detained in Omaha," Schmoke said.
The lawyers were able to temporarily delay the deportation process of the father and the two small children with a stay of removal due to the different paperwork the family members received when entering the country two years ago.
"There are no standards that we know of or any rhyme or reason between who gets ordered removed at the border and who gets to get paroled in. None of them had criminal history at the time that this happened, they were both entering with children, they were both entering in the same manner without inspection and they were entering through the same port of entry only separated by days so it's a very strange and a good example of how inconsistent the process is," Schmoke said.
The father and two children are now back in Omaha. In his own words, the father told us this through a translator.
"The situation in our country right now is very difficult and my wife for example tried to present evidence of her fear of going back to Honduras to claim asylum and she wasn't allowed to do that."
Schmoke also added that the mother was not given the opportunity to talk about her fear of returning to Honduras.
The question that remains is why these children were allegedly detained in a place not meant for immigrant children to be held.
"I don't think it's appropriate for us to be detaining children in hotels or in immigration buildings that are not set to be detention centers," Schmoke said.
In a statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they deny all allegations of wrongdoing and say,
"After a thorough investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has determined the allegation is baseless and without merit. ICE first learned of this false allegation through the media, and at no time did the family make any claims of mistreatment or unbearable conditions."
The statement goes on to say that the safety rights and health of detainees in ICE's care are of paramount concern. All ICE detention facilities are subject to stringent, regular inspections. Any compliance issues found during such reviews are promptly addressed through a Uniform Corrective Action Plan.
ICE officials dealing with this specific case also say in a statement,
"Between June 25 and 26, the family was kept together at an ICE office building in Omaha. While there, they had full access to various services and foods, including: television, juice, meals (which included take-out pizza and sub sandwiches), toys, coloring books and crayons. On both evenings, when the office was closing for the day, the family was taken to a local hotel so they could remain together. At no point were any family members placed in isolation cells."
The family apparently asked for legal representation during their detainment process and were ultimately denied and representation. They had to seek out help from close friends to get in contact with a lawyer.
"I told them I wanted to talk to a lawyer at least so they can get the children to be in the custody of my mother and they wouldn't accept that," the father said through a translator.
For now the family remains separated and uncertain of their future.
"I told the children we are not here because we did anything bad. We are only here because we are not from this country and that we're trying to have a better life," the father said.
You can view ICE's official statement below:
"After a thorough investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has determined the allegation is baseless and without merit. ICE first learned of this false allegation through the media, and at no time did the family make any claims of mistreatment or unbearable conditions.
ICE takes very seriously allegations of misconduct in our detention facilities. We hold our personnel and contractors to the highest standards of professional and ethical behavior. When we receive a complaint, we investigate the matter thoroughly to determine its veracity and to ensure the world-class standards, that ICE is required to follow under various national detention standards, are being strictly maintained.
The safety, rights and health of detainees in ICE’s care are of paramount concern. All ICE detention facilities are subject to stringent, regular inspections. Any compliance issues found during such reviews are promptly addressed through a Uniform Corrective Action Plan.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.
Initially, all family members were detained together and ICE planned to remove them together as a family unit to Honduras. However, as a result of an immigration attorney’s last-minute court filings for only three of the family members, those three remained in the U.S., while others were removed to Honduras."